As spring training opens and many of the top prospects in the New York Yankees farm system are getting an opportunity to show what they can do in Major League camp. Prior to spring games starting, it is time to give readers a look at 20 players who could make a big impact in the New York Yankees’ future. View Examiner's Top 20 below:
One thing to note is that these lists (attempt to) balance pure talent and the probability of reaching, and staying, at the major league level. Not everyone on this list will make it to the major leagues. Even less will make a significant major league impact. In the end, only one or two of these players may become a star, but one never truly knows how they will perform at the Major League level until they earn an opportunity.
In compiling this list, I elected to use Baseball America’s standard for eligibility: All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched, without regard to service time. Additionally, player ages are as of Opening Day 2014.
2013 Statistics with Tampa & Trenton: .253 BA, 15 HR, 71 RBI, .324 OBP
We have always known that Sanchez has a monster bat that will ultimately propel him to the major leagues. That was echoed when Baseball America rated Sanchez as the top power hitter in the New York Yankees farm system this offseason. However, the 21-year-old’s defense has always been shaky, causing many evaluators to wonder whether he would be able to stay behind the plate long-term. While his receiving skills still left some things to be desired, Sanchez showed some improvements on defense last year, bumping his caught stealing rate up to 44 percent. If that success carries over to 2014 and he can improve his receiving skills a bit, Sanchez will look to be a lock to remain a catcher into the future.
Heathcott jumps two spots from my midseason rankings last year after completing his first year at the Double-A level. Heathcott played more than 100 games in a season for the first time in his professional career, despite missing the season’s final few weeks with a knee injury. Though the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury could force Heathcott to move to a corner long-term, he remains a five-tool player with the ability to succeed in any of the three outfield positions. Heathcott could likely use a little more time seeing Double-A pitching, but it appears he will begin the year with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster this offseason.
3) Mason Williams, OF, Age 22
2013 Statistics with Tampa & Trenton: .245 BA, 4 HR, 28 RBI, .304 OBP, 15 SB
Williams has jumped back and forth in my rankings in the past, often displaying phenomenal tools on the field, and a lack of maturity off the field. After seeing him for the final month of Trenton’s season, Williams’ strengths and weaknesses are clear. He’s an outstanding defender who will be in the discussion for a Gold Glove award on a yearly basis, and flashes blazing speed on the basepaths. However, Williams shows a lack of patience at the plate, often swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Williams should be able to learn patience with time and develop into a solid top-of-the-order hitter for the Yankees. Much like Heathcott, Williams will likely have to play an outfield corner initially, as Jacoby Ellsbury figures to spend at least the first half of his contract manning center field in the Bronx.
Jagielo burst onto the scene after being selected 26th overall in last year’s draft. A left-handed hitting third baseman who makes good contact and has plus power, Jagielo is perfectly tailored for Yankee Stadium. He has taken Dante Bichette’s role as the Yankees’ third baseman of the future, and it is possible he could skip Charleston altogether and start the season at High-A Tampa. Though his defense still needs some work, many scouts believe he can stick at third base for the long-term.
5) Jose Ramirez, RHP, Age 24
2013 Statistics with Trenton & Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 2-6, 3.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 78/36 K/BB in 73.2 IP
Jose Ramirez is already 24 years old and was limited to just 73.2 innings last season, and has not topped 115 innings pitched in his professional career, which does not bode well for his ability to be a starter long-term in most cases. However, Ramirez also sports a three-pitch arsenal that includes a 97 MPH fastball and the organization’s best changeup. Ramirez also throws a slider that usually sits between 85 and 87 MPH. His biggest drawback is his command, which he has difficulty sustaining later in games. One scout told me last season that Ramirez could either be a number two starter or a closer long-term.
6) John Ryan Murphy, C, Age 22
2013 Statistics with Trenton, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, & New York: .262 BA, 12 HR, 47 RBI. .337 OBP
Murphy may have already had his first career highlight, catching Mariano Rivera’s final pitch of his career while getting a taste of the major leagues late last season, but it surely won’t be his last highlight. The 22-year-old catcher’s defense has improved enough that the Yankees could (and should) consider him as Brian McCann’s backup this season. However, it is likely he will end up back in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, at least for the start of the season. Murphy projects as a 12-15 home run hitter long-term, with much more power to the gaps. He sees pitches well already, and could be the top trading chip in the organization with McCann blocking his way and Gary Sanchez one level behind him.
7) Manny Banuelos, LHP, Age 23
2013 Statistics: Did not pitch (Tommy John surgery)
Despite missing most of the last two seasons with an elbow injury, there is reason to believe that Banuelos can regain his status as the top pitching prospect in the organization. With a good fastball and a plus curveball/change-up combination, the 23-year-old still has plenty of development time left. Reports early this spring have indicated that Banuelos could be a candidate for the Yankees bullpen, but that would be a foolish move reminiscent of the team’s handling of Joba Chamberlain a few years back. If he is given a chance to work on his command in the minors for a bit longer, the Yankees could have a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter on their hands.
Many appear to have given up on Austin as a top prospect after a season derailed by a wrist injury, but not so much from me. Austin was a leader in the clubhouse for Trenton during the first half of the season, and his return sparked a winning streak throughout the playoffs. A natural hitter who has experience playing first base, third base, and right field in the minors, Austin will find a home at the major league level someday. He still has some trouble with breaking pitches, and is likely to return to Trenton, at least for the start of the season. If he is fully recovered from the wrist injury that ruined his 2013 campaign, Austin could destroy Eastern League pitching and earn an early promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Last year’s breakout season launches Bird into the top 10, and it’s likely that he is viewed as a potential heir apparent to Mark Teixeira’s throne at first base. Bird showed the ability to hit for average, power, and display a good eye at the plate. Converted from catcher after being drafted, Bird’s defense at first base is average, with his range being limited due to back problems. Though it is sometimes difficult for first basemen to advance through the minors, Bird’s bat should move him into the upper levels with no problems at all. Expect to see him in Trenton before the end of the season.
10) Aaron Judge, OF, Age 21
2013 Statistics: Did not play professionally
Judge did not play after being drafted in June, though he still projects as a solid power-hitting outfielder. His mammoth frame (6-foo-7, 255 pounds) profiles him as a power-hitter from the right side of the plate, and he possesses decent speed as well. After playing center field in college, it seems likely that Judge will move to a corner in the minor leagues. Reports during the spring indicated that Judge could start the year at High-A Tampa, which would undoubtedly be an aggressive assignment by the Yankees. He could move quickly despite being just 21 years old, and could make it to Trenton towards the end of the minor league season if he stays healthy.
11) Rafael DePaula, RHP, Age 23
2013 Statistics with Charleston & Tampa: 7-5, 4.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 146/53 K/BB in 113.1 IP
DePaula’s first half-season in Tampa was hardly what anyone expected after a dominant showing with Charleston earlier in the year. Even as a 23-year-old in High-A, DePaula’s plus fastball has him well on the radar as a potential high-end starting pitcher. DePaula also sports an above-average curveball and changeup, and seems comfortable using any of his three weapons as an out pitch. After being moved aggressively in his first season in the United States, the Yankees appear set to have DePaula remain in High-A to start the season, working on his command. There is a chance DePaula heads to Trenton around mid-season.
12) Ian Clarkin, LHP, Age 19
2013 Statistics with GCL Yankees: 0-2, 10.80 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 4/4 K/BB in 5.0 IP
The third of three Yankees first-round picks in last year’s draft, Clarkin is a left-handed pitcher with a well-developed arsenal. His fastball normally sits between 90-92 MPH, though tops out around 94 MPH. As he continues to develop, he should add a little bit more velocity to the pitch. Clarkin’s best developed pitch is his curveball, which clocks in the mid-70’s and has “plus” potential as his out pitch. Clarkin’s changeup is a work in progress, but grades out as an average pitch. His biggest drawback is his control, which is weakened by an inconsistent delivery. He will start the year in extended spring training, and will likely go to either the GCL or Staten Island.
After being a second round pick of the Yankees last June, Katoh burst onto the scene in the Gulf Coast League with a .310 batting average and a .402 on-base percentage. Katoh is a natural second baseman with a good glove defensively. He has displayed some of makings of a future top-of-the-order hitter, though with only half of a professional season under his belt, it is far too soon to tell. The ceiling is high for Katoh, but he is a long way from making an impact in New York.
14) Luis Severino, RHP, Age 20
2013 Statistics with GCL Yankees & Charleston: 4-2, 2.45 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 53/10 K/BB in 44.0 IP
Severino might be one of the most talked about prospects this offseason due to the jump in velocity he experienced last season, adding approximately six to seven MPH on his fastball, which now tops out at 97. Severino has a smooth, easy delivery which leads to good command, and his secondary pitches are coming along nicely. Currently, Severino sports a changeup that has touched 90 MPH, and a slider which has been rated as a potential “plus” pitch. The major drawback to Severino is his size, and it is unknown how his 6-foot, 185-pound frame will hold up over a full season’s workload. The Yankees thought enough of him to bump him up to Charleston last season, and he will likely begin there this year.
With Charleston as his likely starting place for the 2014 season, if Abiatal Avelino looks anywhere near as good as he did in his United States debut last year, he will soar up this list by midseason. While his strong defense is his best asset, Avelino has also fared rather well at the plate. He has good contact ability and has shown a good eye. Though not a home run hitter, Avelino has the ability to spray line drives to all fields. He possesses solid speed and good instincts on the base paths. Avelino has star potential, with his floor already being that of a backup shortstop. Though he will probably spend the entire season in Charleston, we could potentially see him in the Bronx as soon as late 2016.
16) Jose Campos, RHP, Age 21
2013 Statistics with Charleston: 4-2, 3.41 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 77/16 K/BB in 87.0 IP
The “other” pitcher acquired in the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero swap, Campos entered the Yankees organization with a high ceiling. After suffering an elbow injury that cost him the majority of 2012, the organization was cautious with Campos, limiting him to 87 innings pitches in 2013, and never more than four or so in a game. The lack of innings may have stunted his growth a little bit, but the Yankees gave him a 40-man roster spot this offseason, indicating their belief that he can still be a big part of their future. Campos’ ceiling once was that of a top starter, but the injuries and developmental questions have me believing that he may never be better than a third or fourth starter in the major leagues.
Andujar repeated the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old last season and showed exactly why the Yankees think so highly of him. He has great contact skills for his age, and is equipped with raw power due to plus bat speed and a smooth swing. It seems likely that his future would be as a middle-of-the-order hitter. He plays well in the field as well, showing above-average range at third base and a good arm. Long-term, he should be able to remain at the hot corner. His biggest drawback is his lack of speed on the base paths. Andujar will likely head to extended spring training before joining Staten Island when their season begins.
When asked last year what player on his roster had the best opportunity to become a successful major leaguer, Trenton manager Tony Franklin did not hesitate to indicate Ramon Flores. The 22-year-old has an advanced eye at the plate for his age, and possesses good contact skills. However, as a left fielder, he plays a position typically known for generating power at the plate, something that Flores is not really able to do. His defense is very good, and he shows a good deal of range when playing left field, though he indicated he is more comfortable in center field. Though I have no doubt he will get an opportunity at the major league level, it seems likely his ceiling is that of a fourth outfielder.
19) Bryan Mitchell, RHP, Age 22
2013 Statistics with Tampa & Trenton: 4-11, 4.71 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 120/58 K/BB in 145.1 IP
Mitchell struggled quite a bit with High-A Tampa last season, but looked like an entirely different pitcher when given an opportunity in Trenton. He turned in arguably the best start that was seen at ARM & HAMMER Park all season, striking out ten batters in 7 2/3 innings back in August. With a solid three-pitch repertoire that is highlighted by a plus-plus curveball, Mitchell has all the makings of a mid-rotation major league starter, though some scouts have indicated their belief that Mitchell would fare better out of the bullpen. He will return to Trenton for the start of the season as a member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster, and could earn a mid-season promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a strong showing.
“All Rob Refsnyder does is hit,” one scout told me when asked about the fifth round pick in the 2012 draft. His contact skills are above average, and his 23 stolen bases highlight his speed on the basepaths. The same scout indicated that one of Refsnyder’s best assets is his eye at the plate, which is quite advanced for a 23-year-old. The biggest drawback on Refsnyder is that his defense needs a lot of work. Having conquered Tampa at the plate, Refsnyder could open the season in Trenton, and with improved defense, will shoot up this list by mid-season. With Robinson Cano now in Seattle, it appears that Refsnyder is in prime position to become the Yankees’ second baseman of the future, and if he continues at his current development rate, could be set to take over the position sometime in 2015.